Friday, September 28, 2007

Bridges and London and Birthday

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Friday, September 21, 2007



My Visa for the UK has been APPROVED!

Now I need to find a job!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How Lord Elgin Lost His Marbles

"Cold is the heart, fair Greece! that looks on thee,
 Nor feels as lovers o'er the dust they lov'd ;
 Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
 Thy walls defac'd, thy mouldering shrines remov'd
 By British hands, which it had best behov'd
 To guard those relics ne'er to be restor'd.
 Curst be the hour when from their isle they rov'd,
 And once again thy hopeless bosom gor'd,
 And snatch'd thy shrinking Gods to northern climes abhorr'd."
Lord Byron from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage in response to Lord Elgin's removal of marbles from the Parthenon

During his tenure as British Ambassador to Constantinople (1799-1803), Lord Elgin contracted with the Turkish government to remove parts of the Parthenon, including over 75 meters of friezes, 17 life sized marble statues, and 15 of only 92 metopes.  This agreement was effected between Lord Elgin (a representative of the British Empire but not acting on their behalf - the Prime Minister William Pitt denied funds for this transaction so Lord Elgin paid out of his own pocket)and the Turkish government who were an occupying force in Athens at the time.  There is no doubt that the Turks had no respect for the Parthenon - it was being used as an ammunitions depot and they were using the statues as targets for practice shots but there is doubt as to whether the agreement between the Turks and Lord Elgin was legal.  From an ethical standpoint, greed or desire for esteem seemed to be the motivating factor for Elgin.  Only an italian translation survives as a record for the transaction that seemed to be greased with bribes under the table as well.  Did Lord Elgin really believe that the Turks as an occupying force had the right to sell pieces (literally) of ancient Greek history?  The marbles date to the 5th century bc.

Removal of the marbles met with difficulties immediately.  One of the ships sank in the harbor before even getting underway and the marbles were underwater for 2 years.  Once back in England, Elgin was forced to move house with the marbles several times and, finally, in desperation and burdened by huge amounts of debt, he applied to Parliament and the British Museum to buy the marbles from him.  They eventually did for the amount of £35,000 which did not even cover a quarter of Elgin's own costs in getting the marbles back to England.

The arrival of the marbles in England created an enormous stir in the artistic circles of the day with people quickly choosing sides.  Notables of the time weighed in - Keats, Byron, Haydon, Payne Knight - Lord Byron, the poet, was one of the most vociferous detractors of Elgin and his suspect plan and Byron wrote and published several poems attacking Elgin.

Elgin himself suffered not only an enormous amount of debt in the transfer of the marbles but he also contracted a flesh eating disease and syphilis which ate away his nose and portions of his face.  Perhaps karma for his underhanded machinations to remove marbles from the sacred ground of the famous temple to the Goddess Athena?  Lord Byron pointed out that Lord Elgin's disease caused resemblance to the fractured marbles that Elgin returned with as most were not intact themselves, even going so far as to call his second poem "The Curse of Minerva" - Minerva being the Roman equivalent of Athena. 

According to Byron from "The Curse of Minerva": Elgin is a "lawless son / ... do[ing] what oft Britannia's self had done" (211-12). Elgin's sin is to turn sacred ruins into commerce. "Long of their Patron's gusto let them tell, / Whose noblest, native gusto is--to sell: / To sell, and make, may Shame record the day, / The State receiver of his pilfer'd prey" (171-74; author's emphasis).

The debate continues to the present day.  The Greek government has requested the return and the British Museum has declined repeatedly which bears out that possession is 9/10 of the law.
My opinion?  If Greece wants them back, they should get them or come to an agreement with the British Museum on the Museum being able to display the marbles with ownership reverting back to Greece and negotiating an eventual return.  It seems Athena already put her two cents worth in as reflected in the life of Lord Elgin post his precious marbles.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The British Museum

I did a brief scouting mission to the British Museum last week - brief because it was only a few hours and, quite possibly, it could take months and months to fully appreciate all that is there and I considered it a scouting mission because I will go back with a better plan! 
Treasures from all over the world fill the vast spaces all the way into the little nooks and crannies of the stairwells.  It made me wonder (with a wee bit of lust) what the storage spaces must be like of all the treasures that are not on view!
I was impressed with the Egyptian displays as well as the Assyrian - they were stunning in their size and diversity of acquisitions.  I wanted to sit on Sekhmet's lap - all of them!  The Winged Bulls cannot be done justice in photos - they must be experienced. 
I wandered through the Egyptian Sculptures to the Assyrian Sculptures, onto the Nineveh Palace Reliefs (disappointed that there was no reliefs depicting Ishtar tho) and into the Nimrud Reliefs and from there to the Greek galleries. 
The Parthenon Galleries popped my happly little explorer bubble.  I even felt a bit ill.  Housed in these vast rooms were huge amounts of friezes and statues and pieces of the actual Parthenon.  I was aware that there had been some contention between the British Museum and Greece over the ownership of the pieces but I was not really prepared for how very, very wrong that they felt in the museum. 
Certainly there were even more sculptures in the Egyptian section and similar vast rooms for the Assyrian displays but neither of them felt wrong. 
The Parthenon Sculptures - aka the Elgin Marbles - do not belong in the British Museum.  Perhaps they feel misplaced because Greece is actively seeking their return - perhaps they should never have left Greece in the first place.
The only other area of the museum that affected me negatively was the Egyptian Funerary Displays.  Mummies and corpses in varying stages of exposure in bright lit rooms with flashbulbs popping every few seconds was not interesting to me at all.  The display could be done with so much more taste and appreciation for the fact that they are actually displaying DEAD BODIES - it was vulgar.  I like the sarcophagi and the outer tombs and casings but to have 40 people crowded around a glass display holding a child's body that was mummified was horrible.  Again - the presentation could be much much better and respectful and perhaps not allowing pictures of the actual bodies would be a good idea.
To wrap up - I LOVE the British Museum and I cannot wait to go back.  I will just avoid some of their displays in the future.

See my Flickr Set for the British Museum

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Sunday, September 2, 2007

Highgate Cemetery - First Visit

Saturday was my most favorite trip out and about so far - Highgate Cemetery.  It is an unbelievable Victorian garden cemetery that has incredible energy.  We did the east side which was a £3 entrance fee and then bought the little map of the well-known graves for £1.  Karl Marx is actually the only "famous" grave that we saw (we did not follow the map) and wow, you cannot miss it.  For someone who was all about equality, he ended up with the largest and most ostentatious monument in the East side.  Ugly too.  In some areas, the foliage has completely consumed the graves and markers dating back to the mid 1800's.  I cannot wait to go back and wander around some more - it was truly beautiful and really interesting!
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